Rules Of Golf Handicapping

Date Published: 13/12/2023

While it’s common knowledge that a handicap signifies the level of a golfer’s skill, less known are the rules of handicapping.

These rules are implemented to ensure that every handicap is calculated by following the same process. They also act as guidelines for unique circumstances, such as what to do when a round is stopped due to bad weather or poor light.

There are seven official rules of golf handicapping, namely:

  1. Purpose and authorisation; obtaining a handicap index
  2. Scores acceptable for handicap purposes
  3. Adjustment of hole scores
  4. Submitting a score
  5. Handicap index calculation
  6. Course handicap and playing handicap calculation
  7. Committee actions

For the sake of simplicity, we have broken these seven rules into their four main categories.

1: Obtaining your handicap index

Handicaps (or handicap indexes) are governed by the World Handicap System (WHS). This allows for a single, consistent measure of playing ability, calculated in the same way regardless of a golfer’s location in the world.

The WHS calculates your handicap index using your most recent 20 scores. With this, you can compete on any golf course in the world by converting your handicap indexes – according to the difficulty of the golf course – to a course-specific handicap (more on that later on).

2: Submitting your scores

Whether establishing or maintaining your handicap, a golfer must submit verifiable scores, ensuring that the following information is provided:

  • The date of the round played
  • The course rating and slope rating
  • Where applicable, the par and stroke index of each hole

The score must be submitted in the correct chronological order. Submission can be made by the player or by any other golfer with issued authorisation by the player.

If you’re looking to obtain your initial handicap index, your scores must be submitted as either hole-by-hole scores, or 9- or 18-hole adjusted gross scores.

3: Calculating your handicap

A golfer’s handicap should be a reflective representation of their playing ability. To this end, the process of calculating a handicap includes necessary measures to ensure that a player’s handicap index remains accurate. 

Your handicap index is calculated by:

  1. The course rating, slope rating and your adjusted gross score through this calculation: (113 / Slope Rating) – (Adjusted Gross Score – Course Rating – Playing Conditions Calculation)
  2. From here, your handicap is set by taking your best 8 scores from 20 differentials, and dividing the total by 8.

A score will continue to be part of your handicap index calculation so long as it is within your most recent 20 scores.

The maximum handicap index obtainable is 54.0, with professional golfers playing off a scratch (or zero) handicap.

4: A playing handicap versus a course handicap

The playing handicap calculation is the more ‘traditional’ handicap. It denotes the number of strokes each player gives or receives to ensure that all players can enjoy a fair and equal game.

The course handicap calculation is based on a golfer’s handicap index. It allows a golfer to play on any course with a fair weighted course score.

Acquire your handicap index with iGolf

Specifically designed for non-club members, iGolf is England Golf’s digital community. It enables you to track your performances and engage with friends and other golfers. Apart from access to an official handicap index, iGolf also provides a greater connection between non-club members and their local courses.

Simply sign up, download the England Golf app and login to gain access to the iGolf platform. Benefits include:

  • A complete digital history of your golf handicap and scores over time
  • Keep track of your progression 
  • Easy sign-up process
  • £46 for a 12-month subscription